Sunday, April 21, 2013

Exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

If you have the chance to get up to Indianapolis to see the exhibit, Ai Weiwei: According to What?, by all means go. Ai Wei Wei is considered by some to be the "world's most famous living artist," so it is quite a coup for the Indianapolis Museum of Art to have this exhibit. It is the first "full-scale American retrospective of his work," and Indianapolis is the furthest point west to which the show will travel before heading to Toronto, Miami, and New York.

If you read many fiber art/art blogs, you may have come across Kathy Loomis's blog, Art with a Needle. She mentioned Ai Weiwei's work here. If you check out that blog post, you will see Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds (100 million hand painted porcelain seeds). At the Indianapolis exhibit, He Xie is a similar exhibit. He xie literally means "river crab," but it is also a homophone for the word meaning "harmonious," which is used by in the Chinese Communist Party slogan "the realization of a harmonious society." It is made up of 3,200 porcelain hand painted crabs.

I spoke to one of the guys "guarding" the exhibit and told him about Kathy mentioning the Sunflower Seed exhibit. I found his comment to be pretty funny. He said, "Yeah, they got sunflower seeds; we got crabs!"

The most touching part of the exhibit for me was the "Wenchuan Steel Rebar (Straight)" and the "Names of the Student Earthquake Victims found by the Citizens Investigation" exhibit. The description at the exhibit says, "In Straight, Ai Weiwei used rebar recovered from the rubble of collapsed schoolhouses in Sichuan following the 2008 earthquake. The artist staightened each section of mangled rebar through a laborious process that required the assistance of many. The work serves as a reminder of the repercussions of the earthquake and expresses the artist's concern over society's ability to start afresh "almost as if nothing had happened." The orderly arrangement of rebar evokes a Minimalist artistic aesthetic, but the large divide in the piece is reminiscent of both a ground fissure and of a gulf between values. It is a massive, physical work, designed to remind the viewer of the individuals in danger of being forgotten."

On the wall in the same room as the rebar is a giant spreadsheet of names and ages covering an entire wall of the IMA gallery, along with a looped recording of Ai reading those names. According to Nuvo, April 3-10, 2013, Vol. 24, Issue 03 Issue #1099, IMA Curator of Contemporary Art Sarah Green says, "From an American audience it might be difficult to conceive of how wanting to make a list of those who died would be controversial, but it's all in context of the fact that many schoolhouses crumbled while other building did not, and it is likely that shoddy government construction led to many more deaths than were necessary. And the government wasn't interested in a) accounting for those lives that were lost or b) inquiring into why so many school buildings collapsed. The mere act of gathering these names was very political, and very soon after he published the list was when the government shut his blog down in 2009." Weiwei's take on the names is shown below.
If I remember correctly, there are over 5,000 names of Chinese school children on this list, and it takes over three hours to read all the names.
This is just a very small portion of the exhibit. If you go, be sure to watch the video available within the exhibit. Also, be sure to read each explanation listed by the pieces of art--I think you'll be touched by the power of each piece. The exhibit runs through July 21, 2013. There are some additional activities at the museum in accordance with this exhibit--May 16-18: Screenings of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a 2012 documentary about the artist; June 5, 6 pm, ACLU of Indiana First Wednesday discussion of freedom of expression and art as dissent; June 27, 7 pm, Screening of Ai Weiwei's Fairytale, a 2007 documentary directed by Ai chronicling his project for a European art event, Documenta 12, for which he invited 1,001 Chinese citizens to talk about their lives and dreams for the future.

1 comment:

Quilt or Dye said...

Powerful post! Wish I could see the show!